Today as the crux of the work at the UN begins – the negotiation of the CSW conclusions on this year’s priority theme, I am once again reminded most brutally of the shrinking political spaces for women… especially at the United Nations. The lock down begins as governments negotiate a document that will impact on women’s lives all around the world. But where is the transparency and accountability that the UN is so insistent upon…. Where are the opportunities for NGO’s to listen to the discussions? Who , when access to the physical building is so challenging (2 passes required) can actually get near the government delegations who remain to negotiate the document to share language for the document… the immediate answer is – very few… most of the NGO’s here are locked out. Locked out of both the negotiation rooms and the building.
Some delegations hold evening briefings where the NGO’s and government delegation come together to share information. However, despite these meetings, latest copies of the draft document are hard to come by… to coin an Australian term the outcomes document is as rare as hens teeth!! Governments covert the latest text and while some do share, and openly support NGO engagement in the processes, most do not.
If we are truly to be able to expand women’s leadership and political empowerment, why limit and diminish the opportunity for women, who, let’s face it, travel a long way, to participate in and observe the United Nations work and hence work to build a better understanding of how to influence international policy? It has been argued that the … ‘establishment of the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on gender equality and the development of the “good governance” agenda have increased the interest of the international development community in the role of women within governance and the need to strengthen women’s political participation. It is also widely recognised that women’s exclusion from decision making results in state institutions and policies that do not address gender inequalities and are not accountable or responsive to women citizens, thereby perpetuating women’s political, social and economic marginalisation. Women’s participation in politics is therefore recognised to be both a right and a requirement for effective development, and it is generally agreed that a critical mass of women in politics are needed in order to have policy impact.” ( Castillejo, C (2009) FRIDE Working Paper 1983 ‘ Women’s Political Participation and Influence in Sierra Leone’)
The personal is the political and for those who have little access to national recourse for political decision making, the international arena is the only option.
An increased focus on women’s political participation has led to specific programming by donors, to support women’s participation in the political arena. In fact in my own region, it was not that long ago that UNDP ran a whole Pacific program to offer Pacific NGO’s the opportunity to learn high level political participation at CSW. A progamme stopped 2 – 3 years ago. Women’s involvement in the political arena, whether it is at the national, regional or international level broadens efforts to integrate gender into the good governance agenda.
It is at this point, I would like to remind you of Ms Bachelet’s speech at the launch of UN Women, only last week… where she stated …
[quote] “UN Women alone cannot do what needs to be done. We will not replace the good work done by others; rather, we will harness the full capacity and comparative advantage of each, so that there is even greater impact and faster progress. We should all be doing more, not less.
In addition to our role of mobilizing, coordinating and leveraging the efforts of others, UN Women will focus on five areas:
- Expanding women’s voice, leadership and participation;
- Ending violence against women;
- Strengthening women’s full participation in conflict resolution and peace processes;
- Enhancing women’s economic empowerment; and
- Ensuring gender priorities are reflected in national plans and budgets, including capacity to support CEDAW reporting.
I am determined that UN Women will offer a new dynamic to the global dialogue on gender equality, and bring new energy, drawing on multiple talents, and bringing together men and women from different countries and communities in a shared endeavour.” [end of quote]
As UN women define the way ahead, it will be interesting to watch how NGO’s are incorporated into the new structures, and whether UN Women will be a truly informed and effective agency for women. The challenges for us who are able, is to bring pressure onto our own governments to stand up and be counted in raising the capacity of all women to participate in UN conferences.